As a Registered Voter on Marco Island (and Candidate for Marco Island City Council), your recent article regarding the Press Conference announcing Physician’s Regional opening a walk-in clinic on Marco and discussion of the Referendum did not include some “key elements” that all Voters need to know about the Referendum. There are actually 2 issues, but unfortunately, the way the Referendum is structured, they are co-mingled and the Voters of Marco I’m afraid will be unintentionally confused.
The first issue is the Referendum: this was rushed through by an announcement on Friday, June 1st of a Special Called Council Meeting on Monday June 4th to consider whether or not Council wanted to place a Referendum on the August 14 ballot that would provide an “advisory” to Council as to whether the voters of Marco Island wanted to create an additional tax to subsidize a walk-in clinic that would provide service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There had been no discussions or vetting before Council prior to this, nor had there been any public calls for this. At the June 4 Meeting a presentation explained that the urgency was necessary if we wanted the issue on the August 14 Ballot, otherwise the November 6 Ballot was already too full, and the City, if it wanted a Referendum, would have to spend $21,000 for a Special Ballot; during the Community Forum, all the Speakers questioned both the need for the urgency of the Referendum and/or why the City should subsidize a private hospital. In addition, although the Council Chairman continually emphasized that this was merely an “advisory” question, he also explained that if the Referendum were approved, the intent was that the City would then create an MSTU (Municipal Special Taxing Unit) to add an additional ad velorem tax of between 0.1 – 0.15 mills, which would result in $750,000 – $1,100,000 in additional property tax revenue. Subsequently, at the July 16 City Council Meeting a motion was made to support the Budget Sub-Committee’s recommendation to set the property tax millage rate at $1.96/$1,000 of valuation; in discussion the City Attorney explained that unless the motion included the additional MSTU, it could not be created, hence by a 6-1 vote, the millage rate was approved and the MSTU was not created. This does not mean that if the Ballot supports a “yes” on the issue that Council might not choose to simply use funds from the General Fund. As an aside, on a technical basis, the Referendum language is defective since it does not specify either how much the tax would be, or how long the subsidy would last.
The second issue of concern is, especially due to the lack of any public discourse or vetting, whether or not the Voters might unintentionally be misled as to what they would be voting for. It was made very clear at both the Council Meeting as well as the Press Conference that the clinic would NOT BE AN EMERGENCY OR URGENT CARE FACILITY; rather, it would simply be extended hours for the walk-in clinic with a doctor, X-Ray technician, and a nurse. If someone had a medical issue during the night, they would decide to either take the risk of losing the time necessary to drive to the walk-in clinic and let the doctor determine if it would be necessary to proceed to a hospital for more treatment than the Clinic could provide, or if they would have been better off simply calling 911. Although Marco’s Fire Chief has proposed purchasing a second ambulance to help offset the 2-hours that the ambulance is usually tied-up responding to a call, until the issues involving the County EMS are resolved, Council felt that it would not be appropriate to consider the 2nd ambulance at this time.
There really is a third issue here, but because of the defective wording of the Referendum, the real question is not being asked of the voters. That question, very simply, is whether or not, based on the stated facts from the hospitals that they do not believe a 24/7 walk-in clinic can be self-sustaining, do the Voters of Marco Island want to have such a facility, recognizing the limitations of it, and if they want it, are they willing to pay for it?